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Principles of Good Practice for Assessing Student Learning

The next piece to designing an assessment plan is developing a process that will lead to a sound assessment. What are some guiding principles of assessment practice? What are the values and commitments that undergird assessment? In this section, we outline some broad and flexible guideposts for degree program assessment that center on learning outcomes and improve student experiences.

The AAHE 1992 Principles of Good Practice 

Link to full list of principles.

In 1992, the American Association of Higher Education established the Nine Principles of Good Practice When Assessing Student Learning. These practices are firmly established and continue to inform assessment scholarship and practice. They are wide-ranging and adaptable for any program, and in many ways, offer a philosophy of assessment that nearly any degree program can adapt. The nine principles with some illuminating excerpts are below, and the link above offers more detail on each principle.


1. The assessment of student learning begins with educational values.
“Assessment is not an end in itself but a vehicle for improvement.”
2. Assessment is most effective when it reflects an understanding of learning as multidimensional, integrated, and revealed in performance over time.
“[Learning] entails not only what students know but what they can do with what they know; it involves not only knowledge and abilities but values, attitudes, and habits of mind that affect both academic success and performance beyond the classroom. Assessment should reflect these understandings by employing a diverse array of methods, including those that call for actual performance, using them over time so as to reveal change, growth, and increasing degrees of integration.”
3. Assessment works best when the programs it seeks to improve have clear, explicitly stated purposes.
“[Assessment] entails comparing educational performance with educational purposes and expectations -- those derived from the institution's mission, from faculty intentions in program and course design, and from knowledge of students' own goals.” 
4. Assessment requires attention to outcomes but also and equally to the experiences that lead to those outcomes.
“Assessment can help us understand which students learn best under what conditions; with such knowledge comes the capacity to improve the whole of their learning.”
5. Assessment works best when it is ongoing, not episodic.
“improvement is best fostered when assessment entails a linked series of activities undertaken over time...The point is to monitor progress toward intended goals in a spirit of continuous improvement.”
6. Assessment fosters wider improvement when representatives from across the educational community are involved.
“Student learning is a campus-wide responsibility, and assessment is a way of enacting that responsibility...Thus understood, assessment is not a task for small groups of experts but a collaborative activity; its aim is wider, better-informed attention to student learning by all parties with a stake in its improvement.”
7. Assessment makes a difference when it begins with issues of use and illuminates questions that people really care about.
“The point of assessment is not to gather data and return "results"; it is a process that starts with the questions of decision-makers, that involves them in the gathering and interpreting of data, and that informs and helps guide continuous improvement.”
8. Assessment is most likely to lead to improvement when it is part of a larger set of conditions that promote change.
“Assessment alone changes little. Its greatest contribution comes on campuses where the quality of teaching and learning is visibly valued and worked at.”
9. Through assessment, educators meet responsibilities to students and to the public.
“As educators, we have a responsibility to the publics that support or depend on us to provide information about the ways in which our students meet goals and expectations. But that responsibility goes beyond the reporting of such information; our deeper obligation -- to ourselves, our students, and society -- is to improve.”


Further, degree program assessment should aim to include students in the learning process. Students should actively engage not just as participants, but as partners in improving student learning; this includes incorporating the characteristics of the partnerships among students and faculty. Students can become more involved as partners through a variety of different methods. However, faculty and departments need to keep issues of equity in mind when building degree program assessment plans.

Equity-Minded Assessment

A key consideration in all phases of assessment is equity. Assessment offers a unique opportunity to focus on equity in a way that is focused, systematic, and actionable. Questions driving assessment from departments can focus on aspects of equity and, even more, methods of assessment can and should thoughtfully consider diverse student identities. 
The National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA) has, over the past five years, researched and shared what it can look like to center equity in assessment processes. The following broad actions are highlighted in their work. Equity-minded assessment entails:

  1. Check biases and ask reflective questions throughout the assessment process to address assumptions and positions of privilege.
  2. Use multiple sources of evidence appropriate for the students being assessed and assessment effort.
  3. Include student perspectives and take action based on perspectives.
  4. Increase transparency in assessment results and actions taken.
  5. Ensure collected data can be meaningfully disaggregated and interrogated.
  6. Make evidence-based changes that address issues of equity that are context-specific.

Degree program assessment should incorporate meaningful practices that keep in mind both the needs and diverse experience of students. In this way, assessment can reflect the unique dynamics of UMSL students, while offering robust programs in every department. NILOA also offers more in-depth analysis on the process of student learning assessment and on building systems that incorporate developing degrees that lead to meaningful outcomes in other publications.

It is good practice in degree programs assessment to include not only students, but all faculty within a department. Faculty provide the expertise for robust courses and programs, and therefore are needed in every step of the planning process. This can be done in a variety of ways, with each department having its own, unique strategy. Below, we provide guidance on building an assessment plan team.